Portrait bust of Victor Hugo
From an early age Rodin was an avid reader of the works of Victor Hugo (the author of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables), although it was not until 1883 that he met the writer after obtaining permission to make a bust of him. The story of the making of this bust is widely documented, allowing us to appreciate the difficulties which Rodin faced during the task that he set himself: granted sittings of only half an hour at a time, Rodin worked on the balcony while Hugo remained in the sitting room, meaning that the sculptor had to run back and forth to record what he had just seen in clay. Luckily, Rodin had learned to draw from memory at the Petite École, allowing him to make use of drawing as an additional resource. While he modelled the bust, he made sketches of his subject and thus managed to capture the image and reproduce it as faithfully as possible.
Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian in January 1919, the Gulbenkian Museum’s Bust of Victor Hugo is a marble replica of the original bust that Rodin made in 1883. This version presents the head on a base consisting of an unfinished block with gently sloping sides. The original bust was cast in bronze, six months before Victor Hugo’s death and was exhibited at the 1884 Salon. Accepted by some, enthusiastically acclaimed by others, the bust is said to have displeased the writer’s family, although it was admired by most of his friends and, as the many replicas in bronze, plaster and marble attest, it became one of Rodin’s most popular works.
James Horsfall Collection. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian from James Horsfall, January 1919.
H. 58 cm; W. 36 cm; D. 28 cm
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